Belarus diverts flight: 4 ways to plan for an emergency while traveling

May 24, 2021

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You probably don’t want to think about an emergency while traveling, but you should.

Geopolitical situations can change rapidly while you’re abroad, as we saw in Belarus over the weekend when its government forcibly landed a Lithuanian-bound Ryanair flight from Greece to arrest a journalist. The plane took off for its final destination hours later, but passengers were understandably spooked by the experience, which Poland’s prime minister called an “act of state terrorism.”

If you’re not carefully following the news, you might miss a critical update. And it’s not only security concerns to be hypervigilant about anymore, either. The coronavirus has proven to be unpredictable and highly complex, and the situation on the ground in many countries has deteriorated. With borders shut between some countries because of the pandemic, it’s important to know your options if you become ill abroad.

Before you travel, there are important things you should do to plan for an emergency before you head out the door.

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Register your trip with the STEP program

Passports (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has a program called Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program helps keep you up-to-date on relevant security updates from the nearest U.S. consulate — and keep you safe — wherever in the world you happen to be.

While you probably don’t need to register if you’re taking a weekend trip to Canada, here are a few reasons to consider signing up:

  • You’re traveling to an area that’s politically unstable or prone to violence.
  • You’re taking an extended trip (several weeks or months long) where you may have limited internet access.
  • You’re traveling for a major event, summit or conference that might become the target of protests or attacks.
  • You’re a minority traveling to an area where you might be targeted as an outsider.
  • You’d like an additional safety resource during your trip, no matter the destination.

Have a physical itinerary — and share it

Passport Control at Prague Airport
(Photo by Uskarp/Shutterstock)

While having digital backups of your travel plans is essential, you’ll also want to have physical, hard copies of your itinerary. I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when I landed in a country and forgot the address of my hotel. Pulling up those details would have been pretty simple — except for the fact that I didn’t have working internet access.

After my overseas internet snafu, my family insisted on having physical copies of my itinerary, contact information for friends I’m traveling with and other pertinent information. At first, I thought this was overkill — but I quickly got over my pride. Having someone back home who is aware of where you are and when you’re supposed to be there is important. They would be the first point of contact should someone need to get in touch with you and point authorities to your location in case of an emergency.

Other TPG staffers I spoke to for this story said the same.

“After all these years, my dad still wants me to email an itinerary that he prints and puts on the fridge,” said Tom Grashler, TPG’s director of video.

Reporter Ashley Kosciolek has taken to printing paper copies of “everything,” including her passport, boarding passes and even her credit cards.

“I feel better knowing I have tangible backups in the event I lose something or technology fails,” she said.

Pack a first-aid kit and medication

Photo by Rawpixel/Unsplash.

You should make sure to pack a first-aid kit anytime you travel — even if that means taking an extra pair of flip flops out of your luggage in case your suitcase is full.

One of the first medications you should make sure to pack is ciprofloxacin. It’s known as the “stomach virus pill” and will help if you get food poisoning. I have a sensitive stomach and have gotten food poisoning on trips to Cabo, Ghana and Haiti, among other places, and having a few extra ciprofloxacin pills came in handy for what would have otherwise been pretty miserable trips. It’s not available over the counter, so make sure to make an appointment with a travel doctor before you leave to get a prescription.

Other essentials to pack:

  • Your prescriptions, enough for your trip and extra in case you have delays or your travel is interrupted (make sure to pack them in your carry-on and not checked luggage)
  • Travel medicines like malaria prophylaxis
  • First aid kit
  • Other medicines
  • Diarrhea medicine (Imodium or Pepto-Bismol)
  • Motion sickness medicine
  • Cough drops, cough suppressant or expectorant
  • Decongestant
  • Pain and fever medicine (acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
  • Bug spray
  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Digital thermometer

Consider travel insurance

The best pandemic travel insurance will depend on your trip details and how much you’re willing to self-insure.

But, before picking any travel insurance, you should consider whether interruptions due to coronavirus-related reasons are covered. Many policies won’t cover your cancellation if it’s related to a known event (such as the pandemic).

However, if you want to book a trip without free cancellation, you should consider buying a cancel for any reason policy. Likewise, if your primary health insurance won’t cover you on your trip, it’s essential to consider whether medical expenses related to COVID-19 treatment are covered.

You may also want to consider a MedJet medical transport membership. Ryan Patterson, TPG’s miles, points and deals intern says he splits a plan with his parents. “[It’s] not the cheapest, but we had to use it back in 2007 when my dad got pneumonia in Tahiti. [It] saved us $60,000 or so.”

Bottom line

Hopefully, you won’t find yourself in an emergency while traveling abroad. But if you do, some proper preparation can help you navigate (or avoid) a potentially disastrous situation. Either way, always make sure someone, including family, friends or the U.S. embassy, knows your whereabouts, and print extra copies of your itinerary and keep them in multiple places. And be sure to keep essentials in your carry-on in case of an emergency.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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